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Thoughts, opinions, and ramblings about (broadly) children's literature from my perspectives as a writer, parent, and volunteer elementary school librarian. Oh yeah, and poetry of all sorts... with lots and lots of Fibs.
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Sigh. Today is the return to the "normal" world for me, with no more of the SCBWI Summer Conference happening. 1200+ people came to #LA14SCBWI, and it truly felt to me like hanging out with 1200+ friends (which means it was fantastic and overwhelming and inspiring and all that over and over again).
This year, I was on faculty, doing a breakout about how to be effective on Pintwitfacegramblr (or any social network) and doing one-on-one social media consultations. I'm grateful to the SCBWI folks for adding something new to their plate with those, and feel utterly amazed and humbled to be part of faculty at the event in any capacity. Mighty talented folks those faculty members, and nice as can be, too.
I can't yet pick just one memory to share, so I'll wait a bit as I process. But I do know that it was great to see so many friends from online and offline, to share the love of creating books for kids with others who "get it," and to spend time in the happy bubble of smart, fun, compassionate people that makes up SCBWI.
It was 20 years ago today - hey, I like that phrasing - that Little Big League opened in theaters. I wrote the original screenplay for it, which makes me biased, but I've always liked the film... and yes, I still remember the premiere.
It is truly amazing to me that something that started as a little idea in my head (as I drove on the 405, no less) turned into a movie that's still around today. And not only is it still around, but if I may just share this article by Eric Dodds that appeared on Time.com today:
It can be lonely writing (or illustrating or composing or creating anything), and I admit that sometimes when I'm working, I wonder "huh, will anyone but me really care about this story?" Then the thought goes away because really... well... I'm writing because I care about the story. Writing comes, writing goes... and then comes a day like today where, when I'm not expecting it, I get a really big affirmative answer to that long ago question.
I'll keep that feeling in the back of my mind as I keep writing my current manuscript. With luck, that feeling will help sustain me on those days that the story falls apart - because it will - and remind me that the work is worth it (because some days it won't seem like it). And somewhere along the line, I'm sure I'll ask that same question again... then keep writing because, well, I care about the story. And that's enough. Still, I'll take days like today, too!
Happy Anniversary, Little Big League! And thanks for the memories....
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Whenever he visited, they disappeared - He was the person that every box feared. From Froot Loops to Crispix to Bunches of Oats They'd tremble with fear as cries caught in their throats. Organics would quake as if made out of filler... For no one escaped from the cereal killer.
A homophoem is poetic form in which you use a homonym/homophone (or many) to create a "plot twist" or unexpected punchline. I believe J. Patrick Lewis came up with the form, and the above poem was written in response to a prompt from him (over at The Miss Rumphius Effect). I'd never shared the poem here, however, and figured it was time!
My friend and fellow blogger Elizabeth Aquino has just published an ebook called Hope for a Sea Change. It's a true story about her experiences raising a family, and, more specifically, raising her oldest daughter, Sophie, who was diagnosed with a rare seizure disorder at the age of three months. Sophie's 19 now, and only recently, with the addition of CBD, has had her first days without seizures since 1995
Elizabeth's a fabulous writer, and the book is a great, fast read, even while being an uncompromising look at her experiences. Unlike pretty much everything else I discuss here, this is not a book for kids or the classroom, though I assure you everyone at any age would be affected by it.
BookReels is hoping to be an MTV for book trailers (and book sales) says co-founder Dan Rosen (who I used to write alongside at coffeehouses many moons ago!). I think it would be fabulous to see it become another community where folks are talking books, and hope to see the community that's forming there continue to grow.
Award-winning,* best-selling** author Greg Pincus here. I wanted to write a little today about the ABCs - awards, best sellers, and critical thinking.
This past week, Rush Limbaugh won Author of the Year at the Children's Choice Book Awards, an award sponsored by the Children's Book Council. Much as when his nomination as a finalist was announced, there was much gnashing of teeth inside (and outside) the children's book world with the award announcement, including many comments about how the award and even the CBC had lost credibility.
It's easy to feel outraged when there's a sense of being snookered or betrayed, but the reality is that the Author of the Year award has always been determined the same way - qualification is based on sales, then there's a popular vote to pick the winner. That didn't change this year.
So, if the award had credibility before, it has credibility now, even if the winner seems "unworthy" somehow. If you weren't aware of the criterion for the award and how it was picked, at the end of the day that's on you, not the award. And not liking the results doesn't change that at all.
If we ask who gave this particular award whatever credibility it has, I'd say that the answer is that we did, collectively. Perhaps, in this case, it's trust in the creators of the award or the fact that it's part of a mission that we love (celebrating children's books!) and that talented authors have won it before. Regardless, our celebration of award winning status in general definitely is a factor. And that, again, is on us.
Awards for creative endeavors are a tricky thing. In a blog post that's well worth a read, Emma Dryden touches on some of the challenges and pitfalls of them and how we value them. Yet it's not easy to change this - there's all sorts of psychology in play here (including confirmation bias, social conformity, and more), and it's hard to overcome. Awards should mean something, we've decided, so when we see an award (particularly from an organization that seems legit and good), we give it value.
And yet that's abdicating our personal responsibility to practice critical thinking and view each situation individually.
*For example, I honestly am an award-winning author. I'm not talking about awards for my debut novel The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. (which, I note, was a finalist for the Cybils and Crystal Kite... but not a winner) or my screenplays. Nope. I won an award in middle school at the Ready Writing Contest at Mansfield State College. My Punt Pass and Kick trophy from when I was eight could count, too - it's an award for me, after all, and I am an author. Context and critical thinking matter again, clearly.
How we view the status of "best seller" falls into this same arena, at least to me. Best-selling sounds "good" and "impressive," and it's easy to see why an author would link that to his/her name. And yet...
**I can legitimately describe myself as a best-selling author: upon release, my ebook of poetry, The Late Bird, topped Amazon's Kindle Children's Poetry best seller list for over a month.
So, does Best Seller by itself really carry any weight? Again, we collectively have given it status and credibility, but perhaps we've done so without always considering context.
It's very easy to accept that statuses like "award winner" and "best seller" are impressive and meaningful, but if we don't think critically - asking questions like who gave an award, what was the purpose, what were the qualifications, what was the process, how were "sales" measured, where was it a best seller - then we're following blindly and not thinking for ourselves. And that? Well, that's sad no matter who has won what.
What do you think? Do we trust awards, best seller lists, reviews, and the like too much? Is the recent outrage only political in nature and not about our responsibility to think critically? Or...? I look forward to your thoughts.
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April and 30 Poets/30 Days are done, but I wanted to wrap up the month that just passed here on Poetry Friday (and you can see the roundup of PF posts at Write.Sketch.Repeat). This year, I re-issued the poetry from the first two years of the event, so there were 60 poets and 60 poems in one month's time.
And I just have to say it was a privilege, again, to share the amazingly diverse work - in content and style - by an amazing group of talented poets. And to be among them? A thrill. Totally.
So, here, then is what I call 30 Poets/2 Years/1 Day!
Yeah, it was a fine month. Of course, poetry runs year round here at GottaBook, and if you want to keep on top of it, I hope you'll sign up to my poetry email list. That way, when a poem appears here, you'll get it via email for super-easy reading and sharing (plus there have been giveaways and other small extras, too). If you want in, just enter your email address in the box below then click subscribe:
Thanks again for hanging out here for 30 Poets/30 Days. I'm already looking forward to next April... and the 11 months in between, too.
I don't think I'm prone to hyperbole, so I truly mean it when I say that Andrew Huang is the type of brilliant, creative talent I believe makes the world a happier place. So, when I decided to make a book trailer for the 14 Fibs of Gregory K., I knew I wanted him to create the song for it. And he did, and it makes me happy EVERY time I hear it.
I have been experimenting with a lot of musical stuff since an early age, whether it was plinking away on the piano or recording myself on a tape deck. I always considered myself more of a visual artist though until my teens when I started being introduced to music outside of the pop and classical that I grew up with - stuff like punk rock, trip-hop, bebop, cool jazz, weird underground electronic stuff... I realized I loved it all.
Your song challenge videos/songs are incredibly creative. How do you even approach something like "make a song only using the sounds you can make from 1000 pairs of jeans"? Or "only use water sounds." I mean... seriously?
Those found sound videos are fun. It's really a process of discovery. I might have an inkling of where I could take something, but I basically start out by trying to get every possible sound I can out of whatever the challenge calls for. Usually, each sound I can make ends up translating in my mind into a representation of an instrument - tapping a box might work as a snare drum, for example. And then it's back to the normal matter of arranging a piece of music. The palette is limited depending on the materials of course. Most often in these kinds of pieces there isn't something very suitable to use as a bass.
You make music in so many different styles and genres. Do you have a favorite?
Couldn't ever pick a favorite. What I listen to changes all the time. In terms of what I create - sonically speaking - pop, rap, and the wonderfully broad "electronic" would form the backbone of the majority of my work, but I think I also bring a sense of structure and orchestration that comes from what I know and love in classical music. And my songwriting craft was honed more from listening to rock, folk, and country. If we throw all that in the pot it'll keep me happy (most of the time).
You just released a new album on Bandcamp. What's next?
Haha. "You just released a new album on Bandcamp" is a phrase that applies to me about once a month. (Greg's note: you really have to check out his stuff on Bandcamp.)
I'm working on a bunch of new stuff that will be seeing the light of day soon but the biggest thing is this sort of dark, brooding pop album called The Coldest Darkness. It's been years in the making and I haven't often been this excited about a project. There will be a really awesome physical package to go with it to, and I'm working on some out-of-the-ordinary ways that fans will be able to get themselves an early copy.
Andrew is also touring the West Coast of the US with Hank Green this summer. Perhaps I'll see you at a show? Besides YouTube and Bandcamp, you can find Andrew on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere as @AndrewIsMusic. I leave you with his Gravy and Toast, a song he wrote on commission. I mean, really - he turned toast and gravy into toe tapping singable fun. I rest my case!
What a month! And today's poems by Pat Mora and Walter Dean Myers seem like a perfect way to close, at least to me. It has been a thrill for me to share poetry this month by soooooo many poets who I admire so much (59 to be exact!). And thanks for hanging out with us!
How come my feet know how to meet The sidewalk as I walk? “Because of your brain, my love.” How come my lips don’t ever slip As I begin to talk? “Your lovely brain, my pet” How come my knees fly through the breeze As I race along? “Did I mention your B-R-A-I-N?” How come my ears know what to hear When I listen to a song? “They’re connected to your brain!” How come my eyes can judge the size Of everything they see? “Your brain, dummy!” How come my wrists know how to twist A knob or turn a key? “BRAIN! BRAIN! BRAIN! Use it!” And how come my belly button just sits there in the middle of my stomach without doing one little bit of work, gets these little lint things in it, and feels funny if I touch it?
It's a good day when you have Douglas Florian and Liz Garton Scanlon gracing your blog, I say. (And I say this even though back in 2009, due to my executive functioning skills, I didn't end up with a previously unpublished Douglas Florian poem so went into improv mode and shared a poem of his that's always stuck with me.) Riddles, laughs, beauty... I will miss this month when it passes, I must say....
Styropoem by Douglas Florian
I think I've never Seen a poem To praise a piece of Styrofoam. I've waited years - I'm waiting still. I guess I never Ever Will.
I was inspired by that poem (from Bing Bang Boing). So I sat down and wrote the following:
Ode to a Piece of Styrofoam (For Douglas Florian) by Greg Pincus
Styrofoam's good - There is no debate. And Styrofoam won't Disintegrate!
OK, here on day 28 with April Halprin Wayland and Francisco X. Alarcón and my search for daily themes once again leads me to say "I love poetry! That's the theme! POETRY!" Yup. I've done a good job this month not going all fanboy on y'all, but geeeeez, once again I gotta say... I love these poems, and hope you do, too.
When you have Kenn Nesbitt and Graham Denton on the same day, well, it's a day of smiles and smarts in poetry form (aka, a good day!). And thanks to Kenn, people arrive at my blog after typing "chicken on internet" on Google. That's poetic, too, in its own way!
My Chicken's On the Internet by Kenn Nesbitt
My chicken's on the Internet. She surfs the web all day. I've tried to stop her browsing but, so far, there's just no way.
She jumps up on the mouse and then she flaps around like mad to click on every hyperlink and every pop-up ad.
She plays all sorts of chicken games. She messages her folks. She watches chicken videos and forwards chicken jokes.
She writes a blog for chickens and she uploads chicken pics. She visits chicken chat rooms where she clucks about her chicks.
I wouldn't mind so much except my keyboard's now a wreck. She hasn't learned to type yet; she can only hunt and peck.
Sounds of scary night-time creatures: howling wolves and screeching bats, wailing witches, cackling demons, giggling goblins, keening cats; ghostly sounds to make one shiver: haunting screams and ghastly groans; rattling chains and shrieks of horror— noises that will chill the bones; creaking floorboards, footsteps creeping, voices from beyond the grave... when they’re having trouble sleeping that’s what infant monsters crave!
I am the poem out of reach I make you spin and leap and stretch and when you're just about to catch me off I twirl in clever choreography but we are never far apart I pirouette around your heart and head and tease with all the mysteries I can employ:
When the puppy in the road was mine, life didn't stop for the driver. That evening perhaps he read his son one of many stories grownups write for children about dogs. Perhaps this one found its way Home. The End. Then kissed his child center crown as always, the meat his wife was roasting, nearly done by the time the vet pronounced Bella dead at four months, one half hour before my daughter, at six, discovered a new way tomorrow could get here tears to whimpering then finally sleep a plastic bone beneath her pillow from this moment on, safe still from towers burning, a car moving fast against traffic as the children inside squeal themselves to death. A pan of oil too close to an open flame She Is, I think safe still from other stories.
Night and the driver couldn't see a black puppy bolting Didn't know that deep in her German Shepherd blood was a desire for the only story she knew Let's call it "Home"
so when the door was cracked she saw the promise of black night caught scent of her recent journey thought she knew the way back to us One half mile away from where I stood packing, now pondering black linen shorts now folding a Mama For Obama t-shirt into my bag now smiling over our daughter's first pink bikini as our dogsitters searched and found our number. Already, our trip to the Caribbean was becoming another story of another almost-thing, puppy-blood warm freezing fast for us into On the corner of Pacific and Bond that February
Ahhh, yes. Aren't these poems by Julie Larios and George Ella Lyon just gorgeous? That's why I chose them for the 25th, International Gorgeous Poem Day (newly minted by me). OK, fine. But they are wonderful words in perfect order.... Enjoy!
If I were a kite with no strings to hold me, I 'd let the wind take me – I'd let the crows scold me, I'd float through the sky with the sun on my shoulders. The clouds would all bite at my ears. I'd be bolder than bold, I’d dance, I'd go soaring— a life in the sky could never be boring.
I'd fly over houses then over the tops of skyscraping buildings but I wouldn't stop there, I'd sail over sailboats and islands and oceans. I’d drive the world loco with my locomotion.
Diving and squawking, The seagulls would show me the migrating whales as they spouted below me. Over Kansas and Kashmir, the hot sands of Cairo, Mt. Fuji, Mt. Everest – higher and higher— wheatfields would wave to me, deserts would sigh. Icebergs would stare as I rose in the sky.
The sun would be one friend, the bright moon another. And what would the stars be but sisters and brothers?
I'd know all the secrets the sky's never told me if I were a wild kite with no strings to hold me.
So, I ran across this recipe on a scrap of paper on my desk today - I recall quickly writing it late one night while brainstorming ideas for The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. launch. I don't recall what my exact thoughts were, but I bet it was something like "Hey! It's food! And Fibonacci!" Regardless, here it is:
1 bag of chips 1 can refried beans 2 lbs. ground beef 3 handfuls shredded cheese 5 tablespoons sour cream
In a large pan, brown the meat, seasoned to taste (with 13 spices, ideally). Combine with beans. Pour bag of chips onto cookie pan to form an even layer. Cover chips with meat-bean mixture. Sprinkle the three handfuls of cheese on top. Put in oven at 250 degrees for 10 minutes. Serve warm, garnished with sour cream.
Yes, I had all that written down. I was serious about this idea, I tell you! As you may recall... I had pie at the launch party instead. I'm okay with that... but if you ever want to invite me over for Fibonachos, I'm game!
The incomparable Jack Prelutsky started off the entire 30 Poets/30 Days adventure with a poem written especially for the event! In 2010, we kicked off with Alice Schertle in fine triolet form. I'm gonna run out of adjectives this month, but geeeeeez, I love these poets and poems!
A Little Poem For Poetry Month by Jack Prelutsky
I’m glad we have a Poetry Month, But still, I wonder why They chose a month with thirty days— Were months in short supply? I wish that they’d selected A longer month, like May. I’m certain I’d appreciate That extra poetry day.
Of course, if they’d picked February, I would be aghast, For February’s very short And passes far too fast. But April’s not as short as that, So I don’t hesitate To say I’m glad it’s Poetry Month. Hooray! Let’s celebrate.
So, here on April 22 with poems by Janet Wong and Heidi Mordhorst there actually IS a theme... because the 22nd is Earth Day and these poems are thematically Earth Day friendly (besides being strong in their own right for any day). So here's to our Earth and to poetry, two of my favorite things.
If you praised my grandfather for being green, he would check his favorite flannel shirt and say, "You see paint?"
But he is as green as the snow peas he grows in his garden. Green as the old glass jars in his garage that hold pins and nails and hinges. Green as the avocados he buys from the little store on the corner.
If I praised my grandfather for his small carbon footprint, he would check the bottom of his shoes for dirt, then say, "Size 10 EEE."
Smaller Than I Thought for Mrs. Alexander’s Class by Heidi Mordhorst
Here at the Earth Day Party in the park they’re cutting the Earth Day Cake: rich chocolate to stand for the soil, swirls of green and blue frosting to represent land and water. The white icing at the Poles is melting under the unseasonably hot April sun.
It’s smaller than I thought. The pieces are small, too.
There’s no point in asking for seconds; in fact, there isn’t enough to go around. Some of us will have to share one slice of Earth Day Cake between us. I don’t know the kid who comes to sit beside me on the lawn. “Let’s take tiny nibbles to make it last longer,” he suggests. I nod,
and we gingerly dig our two forks into one small slice of the blue Pacific.
... I'm on faculty this year, so I say you must attend so we can chat!
Have you seen the lineup of keynote presenters? Wow. Every year I think "yeah, but who will they give us next year?" And each year the conference has incredible people, and I sigh and say "geez, who will they get NEXT year?" It's an amazing lineup of breakout sessions, too.
As part of the Conference, I'm offering a limited number of social media consultations that you can sign up for (there's a fee, just like the manuscript consults). For the summer con, I'm adding in more, more, more than what I've done with these consults at other events... and folks tell me those are worth it as is.
If you've got questions about the consults or my breakout session (whose title includes the word Pintwitfacegramblr in its name), just ask. Most of all, I hope you'll be there this summer so we can hang out!
Elephants and pasta both have natural ties to the 21st of April because... huh. I guess the fact is that Greg Pincus (a.k.a. me!) and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer appeared on this day was as random as I expected. Today's poems further show, I think, that you can go anywhere with poetry. And that, my friends, is unquestionably good!
I Went to the Farm Where Spaghetti Is Grown by Greg Pincus
I went to the farm where spaghetti is grown In rows of long vines in a field of its own. It grows in the shade of the great ziti trees, Right next to the bushes that grow mac-and-cheese. Lasagna plants bloom alongside manicotti, And orchards of angel hair grow long and knotty. I watched as a tractor plowed rows of linguini, And cheered at the harvest of fresh tortellini. I helped as the farmer cleared fields full of weeds Then planted a crop using orzo as seeds. We watered his land that was miles across Then fertilized amply with meatballs and sauce. When I left that farm where spaghetti is grown In rows of long vines in a field of its own, I thought it the greatest place under the sky... 'Til I saw the farm where they only grow pie!
Long, long ago, before man tamed words on the page and when elephants were great kings of the sky, ruling the storms, inking out the sun, stampeding across the stars, there was a great counselor and prophet who traveled to the most remote mountain villages to share all he knew. As word spread of the master’s visit, many gathered under the arms of an ancient elm, and even a great flock of elephants swooped in with the first ribbons of dawn to perch in the branches and listen. But a quarrel erupted among the elephants over who had the best view, causing the limbs of the tree to fracture and fall, crushing all but the prophet himself. Furious, the prophet invoked a dreadful curse, shriveling the elephants’ prized wings into pitiful ears, chaining the elephant to gravity and man’s will for all eternity. To this very day you can see the poor elephants flapping their ears, dreaming of flight, but now only cousins of clouds.
Here on Day 23 with Nikki Giovanni and Charles R. Smith, Jr. poems, I'm reminded again that the unifying factor every day in 30 Poets/30 Days is "good poetry by amazing poets." Doesn't mean I won't search for other themes, of cousre (hey, it worked for Earth Day!), but today I am happy to share good poetry by two amazing poets!
I speak for those who are meek, for those who cover ears to silence sirens and shrieks shouted from mothers with mascara-stained cheeks sobbing over souls slain in the streets leaving generation gaps, so I speak.
I speak for those living in silence, quieted by criminals with a history of violence, for those whose lives were changed by the demise of loved ones lost right before their own eyes, for them, I speak.
I speak for young eyes that see bruises branded by daddy’s fists on mommy, battering her body scarring her soul turning her children’s warm hearts cold forcing their faces to hide and seek shelter from rage for them I speak.
I speak for the illiterate and weak, those who slip through the cracks and fall on the streets and scratch for salvation without food, shelter or heat, for those who are lost, for them, I speak.
These words that I say, these words that I speak give voice to the silent, scared and weak.
These words that I speak, these words that I say challenge everyone to listen everyday.
It's Day 24 of 30 Poets/30 Days and today, with J. Patrick Lewis and Georgia Heard poems for you, I present theme-by-coincidence: poems that are about poetry! Maybe it's my "day after Shakespeare's birthday" tribute? Or maybe, as before, it's just two great poems shared a year part. You be the judge....